Blessing Muzarabani and Victor Nyauchi combine to rout Afghanistan for 131
Blessing Muzarabani and Victor Nyauchi had earlier combined to bowl Afghanistan out for 131
Stumps Zimbabwe 133 for 5 (Williams 54*, Hamza 4-61) lead Afghanistan 131 (Zazai 37, Muzarabani 4-48) by two runs
Fifteen wickets fell on an eventful first day in Abu Dhabi, where Zimbabwe edged their noses in front in the first Test against Afghanistan. Their seamers shared eight wickets between them to dismiss Afghanistan for their fourth-lowest Test total, before a 71-run fifth-wicket stand between Sean Williams and Sikandar Raza steadied Zimbabwe from 38 for 4. But by the time the day ended, Williams’ fourth Test half-century had put them in the lead.
On a green-tinged pitch that assisted the quicks early on but started to turn later in the day, batting is expected to only become more difficult so any lead Zimbabwe can get is likely to be valuable. And they may be able to build one against a depleted Afghanistan attack. Their only seamer Yamin Ahmadzai left the field with what looked like an ankle injury during his tenth over, which was the 31st over in the Zimbabwe innings.
Ahmadzai did not get the benefit of morning conditions, where there was movement through the air and off the seam and extra bounce for the tall Blessing Muzarabani, whose strikes bookended a disappointing effort from the Afghanistan line-up. Six of their batsmen were caught behind the wicket and their innings was littered with loose strokes pointing to deficiencies in defence and temperament, or at least a lack of match practice in the longest format.
Though they avoided sinking to their lowest Test score of 103, their final total will hardly be any consolation, especially knowing that their two wins in this format – against Bangladesh and against Ireland – have come when they totalled over 300 in the first innings. Theirs is also the lowest total by an opposition against Zimbabwe since West Indies’ 128 in Bulawayo in 2003.
Muzarabani, playing in his first Test since the day-night game against South Africa in 2017, became the first Zimbabwe bowler to take a wicket with the first ball of a Test when he bowled debutant Abdul Malik with a ball that moved into him and took the inside edge on to the stumps. Malik’s was the 33rd instance of a batsman being dismissed off the first ball of a Test.
His wicket brought Afghanistan’s only Test centurion to date, Rahmat Shah, to the crease, who reached 300 runs in the format with a straight drive down the ground, but lasted just five more balls before Muzarabani got one to move away slightly, with a fine outside edge carrying to Regis Chakabva.
Muzarabani’s early burst was well-supported by his new-ball partner Victor Nyauchi, who ensured the third-wicket stand did not grow beyond 29, which turned out to be the highest of the Afghanistan innings. He had Munir Ahmad caught at slip reaching for a wide delivery. Ibrahim Zadran, who was Afghanistan’s best batsman in the opening session and was strong on the square drive, went the same way three overs later when he attempted a drive off a Nyauchi ball that moved away to be caught in the gully. Nyauchi had further success before lunch when he bowled Hashmatullah Shahidi with an inswinging yorker that snuck through the bat-pad gap, sending Afghanistan into the lunch break on 85 for 5.
Muzarabani followed up his eight-over morning spell by returning immediately after the interval and struck in his second over. Asghar Afghan fished at a full ball outside off and got an outside edge to give Chakabva a simple catch. Top-scorer Afsar Zazai played some eye-catching shots – including the leg glance and the cut – to take Afghanistan over a hundred, but eventually edged Donald Tiripano to Chakabva while defending inside the line.
Zimbabwe only found use for spin in tandem in the 41st over when Raza joined Williams in the attack. Raza also found extra bounce and had Abdul Wasi caught at short leg as it took the shoulder of the bat when he tried to defend. In the next over, Ahmadzai holed out off Williams to mid-on, and the captain then took himself out of the attack so Muzarabani could finish off. Zahir Khan was caught at third slip to give Muzarabani his first four-wicket haul.
The total of 131 might leave Afghanistan ruing their inability to leave the ball as much as they should have or to spend time at the crease as their innings lasted just 47 overs.
In response, Zimbabwe found themselves in early trouble when Kevin Kasuza was bowled off the fourth ball, which was an inswinging yorker from Ahmadzai. Then Tarisai Musakanda and Prince Masvaure both played for turn, but were out lbw to deliveries that went on with the arm from Amir Hamza. Masvaure faced 49 balls for his 15 runs and showed the kind of application many of the batsmen before him lacked.
But he was followed to the crease – and the change room – by debutant Wesley Madhevere who was dismissed off the next ball, closing the face of his bat to a Hamza delivery that skidded on to the front pad. Without DRS, it was not possible to tell if the impact was outside the line, and Madhevere’s maiden Test innings ended up being a first-ball duck.
With the ball turning and Hamza posing problems, Afghanistan may have seen the opportunity to run through Zimbabwe, but the experience of Williams and Raza kept them at bay. Williams’ back-foot play and Raza’s ease on the sweep were on display and though there were some nervous moments in their knock, both could have gone on to half-centuries. Raza began to chance his luck when he pulled Wasi to a vacant midwicket area and in the next over, sliced Hamza to deep point. Williams was more cautious, and with Ryan Burl, saw Zimbabwe through the final 20 minutes of play,
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo’s South Africa correspondent